On 12 April 1961, aboard the Vostok 3KA-3 (Vostok 1), Soviet pilot Yuri Gagarin became both the first human to travel into space, and also the first to orbit the earth.
Yuri Gagarin was born into a family of farmers. At the age of 16, he an apprenticeship as a foundryman and enrolled at a “young workers school” before started studying at the Industrial Technical School. Voluntarily, Gagarin entered a local aeronautics club as an air cadet and learned how to fly. After improving his flight skills at the Soviet Army, Gararin was chosen among 19 other pilots for the space program. In order to figure out, who would be part of the Vostock program, the pilots had to perform many physical and psychological tests. At the end Yuri Gagarin and Gherman Titov were the final candidates and of course, Gagarin was chosen to be on board of the first manned spacecraft.
But before Gagarin headed to space, several tests had to be performed. In August, 1960, two dogs were sent to space who survived the trip and four months later two other dogs died while reentering the Earth’s atmosphere. In March, 1961, Vostok was used for the first time, transporting two further dogs and a doll wearing a pressure suit. During the preparations, Gagarin was instructed in the spacecraft’s functions. Soviet scientists made sure the pilot only had to operate as many on board procedures as necessary, since nobody knew if he was even capable of doing so during the flight.
Even though the flight was supposed to last just a few hours, the spacecraft was equipped with food and drinks for 10 days. Also in case Vostok was unable to enter the atmosphere correctly, the Soviet scientists calculated a flight route that would naturally reenter the spacecraft into the atmosphere after 7 flight days.
Around 676 seconds after its launch, Vostok reached Earth’s orbit. Since the mission was not intended for actual scientific research in space, Gagarin’s tasks were basically limited to observing and explaining all situations he went through, also two cameras were installed inside the cabin, recording every second of the flight. When consuming the space food prepared for him, Gagarin found the pureed meal to be unsuitable for a longer flight. While reentering the Earth’s atmosphere, the pilot falsely noted his location being above the United States and landed safely in a small Soviet village. He was found by an old farmer lady before Soviet soldiers and scientists arrived at the scene.
The successful Vostok mission belongs to the Soviet Union’s biggest achievements in space programs. Also it depicted an important step in the country’s space race with the United States. Yuri Gagarin himself was instantly after his landing promoted and celebrated as a national hero.
Gagarin was commander of the Soviet Cosmonaut Group until 1963 and then studied at the Military Academy for Air Force Engineers “Prof. N. J. Zhukovsky”. In 1967, during the flight of Soyuz 1, he was intended to replace Vladimir Mikhailovich Komarov, who died in the mission. On 27 March 1968, Gagarin died in an accident during a training flight with a MiG-15UTI. Gagarin had been appointed Cosmonaut Instructor in February 1968, but before taking up this post, he still wanted to complete his training as a combat pilot. This had been interrupted because of his cosmonaut program.
References and Further Reading:
-  Gagarin at Russian Archives
-  Gagarin at the Encyclopedia Astronautica
-  Vostok 1 mission at NASA
-  Gagarin at NASA
-  Houston – we have a Problem, SciHi Blog, April 11, 2018
-  Apollo 17 – The Last Men on the Moon (so far) , SciHi Blog, December 11, 2012
-  The Sputnik Shock , SciHi Blog, October 4, 2012
-  A4 – The First Human Vessel To Touch Outer Space, October 3, 2012
-  SpaceShipOne – The first private Spaceship SciHi Blog, September 29, 2012
-  The Eagle has Landed – The First Man on the Moon, SciHi Blog, July 20, 2012
-  Yuri Gagarin at Wikidata